Bullet Journal Pros and Cons
Most of us want to be more productive and organized. Whether or not you’ve actively searched for ways to do so, you’ve probably come across the bullet journal and how it has transformed lives for the better. I’ve certainly raved about it in the past. Many. Many. Times. But picking up the bullet journal system and actually putting it to good use wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows like many social media posts and “Plan with Me” videos these days paint them out to be. If you’re still on the fence about starting a bullet journal, here are some pros and cons that’ll help give you a better idea of what to expect.
But first off, what’s a bullet journal?
In short, bullet journals are DIY planners. The main things that set them apart from other planners are their structure and rapid logging system that help organize, prioritize and track important tasks, event and notes across days, months, and even years. For an in-depth breakdown of how the bullet journal system works, I highly recommend watching Ryder’s introduction to bullet journals.
You probably noticed that what you see on social media looks nothing like the original. That’s because the bullet journal is extremely customizable, almost to a fault. Since I prefer ending things on a positive note, I’ll first list the shortcomings of using a bullet journal – no sugarcoating.
1 | Bullet journals are time-consuming.
Since you begin with a blank notebook, you have to set up everything – future logs, monthly logs, daily logs, the whole shebang. And those are just the basics. What if you want to decorate your pages and add a couple of hacks you saw on Pinterest? Between planning out your spreads and putting those ideas onto paper, you use up time that could’ve gone towards actually getting things done. At that point, you have to ask yourself if a bullet journal is really going to help you or if you’re just procrastinating.
2 | Bullet journals are intimidating.
Planners are usually straightforward. You write down your tasks and get on with your day. With the bullet journal, however, you’re introduced to new concepts, like logs, migrations, modules, and collections, which you have to tie together into a cohesive system. Once you get past that, there is an overwhelming amount of “upgrades” to add, not to mention the additional (and totally unnecessary) pressure of getting your bullet journal to look like the carefully-crafted spreads you see online.
3 | Bullet journals are expensive.
Bullet journals are actually budget-friendly since you only need a notebook and pen to start. However, many people are tempted to jump into bullet journaling with a “go big, or go home” mentality and buy all the supplies their favorite planner gurus talk about. There’s even a notebook made specifically for bullet journals that will set you back $25 before tax and shipping. That price tag was hard to swallow for someone who grew up thinking that a Mead Five Star notebook was a luxury. And if you plan to use high-quality pens and decorate your bullet journal, be prepared to spend even more money.
4 | Bullet journals are a perfectionist’s nightmare.
Getting your journal to look and feel the way you want it to is going to be an endless struggle. Since you’re setting up all the pages yourself, mistakes are bound to happen, and some spreads are going to look awkward. All the bullet journals on steroids you see on social media won’t help either. You might feel obligated to do monthly themes, try every bullet journal hacks in existence or painstakingly draw the straightest and most evenly-space lines possible. And you could spend hours planning and setting up a couple of pages, only to look back and feel an itch to “fix” something.
5 | Bullet journals are unnecessary.
With all the work that goes towards starting and maintaining a bullet journal, you’re going to wonder if you’re better off just getting a planner and calling it a day. In fact, some bullet journal modifications blur the fine line between a bullet journal and a standard planner or art journal to the point where the original bullet journal system takes the backseat. Eventually, keeping a bullet journal can actually become a hindrance.
And for the cherry on top: if you lose your bullet journal, that’s it. There’s no backup, no Cloud, and no Find My Bullet Journal app. You could go out of your way to purchase the Tile or other trackers, but that’s beside the point.
A couple of my friends stopped using their bullet journals for some of the reasons above. And to be honest, I nearly called it quits two months in. It felt more like a way to indulge in my love for stationery (ain’t nothing wrong with that) and less like a productivity tool that can have a real impact in how I go about my day.
But I didn’t feel like going back to Google Calendar yet, and I just dropped $20 on a Leuchtturm1917 notebook that I didn’t want to go to waste, so I stuck it out a bit longer. Two years and three notebooks later, my bullet journal has become an integral part of my life. And that takes us to where the bullet journal system shines.
1 | Bullet journals are great creative outlets.
A bit of time and effort are required to turn a blank notebook into an effective planning system, but the fact that you’re starting from square zero also means that your creativity is neither restricted nor forced. If you want to be adventurous with your layouts, paint every page with color and go HAM on the printouts and washi tapes, you’re free to do so. On the other hand, if you want to keep things minimalistic, that totally works (and for many people, that works better)! You’re not limited to the structure of a traditional planner, and the blank pages let you experiment and find your own style in a fun and therapeutic way.
2 | Bullet journals help you identify the important and urgent tasks.
Many people confuse bullet journals for a giant list of to-do lists, but it’s so much more than that. Similar to planners, there are sections (i.e., future logs and monthly logs) that give you a glimpse of what to expect in the future. The key difference is the migration step, which encourages you to look at unfinished tasks, reevaluate their importance, and decide whether or not they’re worth your time in the future. This helps eliminate the mundane tasks and conditions you to focus on the things that’ll help you achieve your goals and stay productive.
3 | Bullet journals are unique.
Everything is better personalized. It just feels more, well, personal. Your bullet journal is uniquely yours because it’s filled with just the things that are important to you. No extra sections that you don’t need. No tacky designs or cheesy quotes that you didn’t ask for. It is built to be more than just another planner because it’s structured in a way that’s unique to your lifestyle and preferences. And since no two people are alike, it only makes sense that no two bullet journals are alike.
4 | Bullet journals are forgiving.
Once you get over the idea that bullet journals must be picture perfect pinnacles of productivity, bullet journaling can be more fun, relaxing and effective. As with many things in life, you’re supposed to make mistakes so you can learn from them. With the bullet journal, there’s room for trial and error so that you can keep what’s working and fix what’s not, molding it into a system that’s perfect for you. It’s also forgiving in the sense that if you miss a day or two, or a week, or a month, you can go back to it and continue where you left off without wasting paper.
5 | Bullet journals cater to your needs.
We all have different needs, lifestyles, and preferences, and the bullet journal accommodates for those elements in ways that traditional planners cannot. While the blank pages and new concepts may seem daunting at first, you’ll soon realize that its flexibility is what makes a bullet journal so effective and adaptable to your needs. You can set up pages for just about anything – tracking habits, logging meals, setting career-oriented goals, reflecting on your day, testing new stationery, compiling shows to binge-watch, and the list goes on and on. A bullet journal can address as many or as few aspects of your life as you need it to, and it can do so all in one place.
Like with anything with lots of hype behind it, there’s plenty to love and hate about the bullet journal. Ultimately, it comes down to what you want out of a bullet journal and your willingness to set it up to meet those demands. It takes patience and practice to get accustomed to the bullet journal system and shape it into something that works uniquely for you. Just remember that it doesn’t have to measure up to what you see online to be one of the most important tools you own.